Tag Archives: reconciliation

Towards Reconciliation: Is Forgiveness the Next Step?

As National Reconciliation Week begins and we celebrate twenty years since the Bringing Them Home report was tabled in Federal Parliament, and over ten years since former Prime Minister Kevin Rudd made The Apology to Australia’s Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples, my thoughts turn to a question which has been burning within me since The Apology was made: why haven’t we achieved Reconciliation?

It’s a question to which there are as many answers as there are those willing to answer it. Fingers can be pointed in all directions: Government, institutions, mainstream society, even back at Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities. Ironically, the majority of all these groups seem to want Reconciliation. So what’s the hold-up?

In his Apology to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples, former Prime Minister Kevin Rudd stated:

“The time has now come for the nation to turn a new page in Australia’s history by righting the wrongs of the past and so moving forward with confidence to the future.”

One of the main criticisms of the Australian Government it that it has not done enough to improve – or facilitate the improvement of – the lives of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples. The updated Bringing Them Home 20 Years On report provides a classic example: twenty years after the original report and we see little progress, yet the same rhetoric, the same arguments, and the same recommendations. Stop and think about that for a moment. Twenty years, and we’re still talking about the same things! Forget “moving forward with confidence to the future” – we’re stuck in neutral. Or maybe even up on blocks!

On that premise it could be argued that Reconciliation cannot proceed until the Government makes substantial reparations to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples. While I believe that many Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples would agree with that, I also believe that there is (or should be) enough evidence to suggest that unless there is a major shift in the Government’s priorities, that degree of change is unlikely to happen.

Does that mean we should give up on Reconciliation? Not at all. However, it does mean that we may need to alter our approach to Reconciliation, and consider the sequence of events that need to occur in order for us to start moving forward.

Former Prime Minister Kevin Rudd said:

“We the Parliament of Australia respectfully request that this apology be received in the spirit in which it is offered as part of the healing of the nation.”

At the time it seemed that Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples – in general – had received the Government’s apology, in that it was both welcomed and valued, and seen as a huge step to improving race relations in Australia. However, I think what may have been lost over time is that Mr Rudd was not just asking for the apology to be received or accepted: he was asking for forgiveness. Maybe that’s what’s been missing from the Reconciliation process to date?

When two people have an argument, once it’s determined who is in the wrong there is usually an apology, a promise to make amends, and then forgiveness. Forgiving conveys an understanding that the apology and proposed correction have been accepted, and that things can move forward. It is not ‘forgive and forget’, and does not imply that the receiving party must ‘get over it’. If anything, it is important to recognise and recall past faults in order to facilitate current and future correction.

While I believe Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples welcomed the Apology, I’m not convinced that, as a majority, we have expressed forgiveness. Further, I believe this is recognised, perhaps on a subconscious or unexpressed level, by broader Australian society, and inhibits the Reconciliation process. Not because non-Indigenous Australia doesn’t want Reconciliation, but because it’s waiting for us to say, “it’s okay, we forgive you, let’s work out how we move forward from here.”

The idea of forgiveness without prior reparations might be inconceivable to some Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples. For many – arguably all – the sins of the past still affect present-day lives. Many wounds are still open, and being stuck in the status quo does little to help them heal. We’re now fifty years on from the Referendum, twenty years on from Bringing Them Home, and almost ten years from The Apology: there is nothing to suggest those wounds will heal unless we do something different to what we’ve done in the past.

I’m not going to tell anyone that we ‘have to’ forgive broader Australia for the past – that’s not my place to say. What I will do is encourage all Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples to consider whether forgiveness is the next step towards Reconciliation. We need to have this discussion in our families, our communities, and our organisations. We need to ask ourselves, can we forgive? Are we ready to forgive? Is forgiveness what we need to do in order to strengthen the relationship between Indigenous and non-Indigenous Australia, and in doing so, make Reconciliation – and all the factors that are included in achieving Reconciliation – a national priority for all Australians.

How else can we move forward?

Please feel free to share your thoughts in the comments section below.

Learn About Aboriginal Australia – Ask an Aboriginal Person!

In the spirit of National Reconciliation Week (27 May to 3 June) I’m inviting anyone and everyone who would like to learn more about Aboriginal peoples to go ahead and ask – me!

I’m not claiming to be an expert, but as an Aboriginal person with a diverse range of knowledge and experiences, I’m more than willing to share what I know with all who would like to know more. And if there’s anything I can’t answer (and I’m sure there will be) I’ll do my best to find someone who can.

I see this as an opportunity to promote Reconciliation between Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal peoples through sharing knowledge, promoting understanding, and removing fears. Reconciliation begins by coming together at the same table and engaging in open discussion.

Please post any questions in the comments section below – I will respond to each as quickly and best as I’m able!

Happy National Reconciliation Week!

Reconciling Australia: We Need Acknowledgement More Than Apology

984a1b0af5d47f5f81d26ace274913bdIt’s National Reconciliation Week in Australia, a time intended to build relationships between Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal Australians. The last time I spoke about Reconciliation I called for reconciliation between Aboriginal peoples. Yet as I skim through the posts, tweets, memes, and videos posted in commemoration of this week, a sad irony presents itself: there is still so much bitterness, so much anger, so much hurt, and so much division between Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal Australians. Reconciliation in Australia seems less likely than ever.

National Reconciliation Week arrives just after National Sorry Day, a day commonly misunderstood to be recognition of the Apology to Australia’s Indigenous Peoples by former Prime Minister Kevin Rudd. While the two are inextricably linked, National Sorry Day commemorates the tabling of the Bringing them Home report on Australia’s Stolen Generation, and is held to both recognise the injustices of the past, and hold the Australian Government accountable for repairing the damage caused by those injustices. It is a day of mourning and remembrance, in much the same way that ANZAC Day is a day of mourning and remembrance.

However, it’s the ‘sorry’ part that seems to be the sticking point. Many Aboriginal peoples feel that ‘sorry’ isn’t enough; that without reparations ‘sorry’ is just a word non-Indigenous people use to absolve themselves of guilt. On the other hand, many non-Aboriginal Australians do not see the point of continuously saying ‘sorry’; at best they feel their remorse is not being accepted as genuine, and at worst, that an apology isn’t necessary for something they personally have not done – that “the past is in the past”. Could it be that the demand for ‘sorry’ is actually driving a wedge between Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal peoples, rather than bringing us together?

Perhaps the way towards achieving Reconciliation involves acknowledgement more so than apology. Acknowledgement on both sides of the cultural divide.

The first thing to acknowledge is that Aboriginal peoples are still suffering, in every sense of the word, from the injustices of the past. This does not mean that Aboriginal peoples are “still living in the past”; rather it means that the effects of those injustices are still very much the present, and the immediate foreseeable future, for Aboriginal peoples. It is not the past because Aboriginal peoples are still living it. Non-Aboriginal people don’t need to understand that – in fact it is arguable that anyone not living through that could not truly understand it anyway – but they do need to acknowledge that the suffering experienced by Aboriginal peoples is real, and part of the reason things are the way they are.

By the same token, Aboriginal peoples also need to acknowledge that we are still suffering as well, and this suffering can skew our perceptions of the attitudes of non-Aboriginal peoples towards us. I have seen and heard too many Aboriginal peoples use their suffering as justification for their mistrust of non-Aboriginal people. Sadly, there are still enough non-Aboriginal people whose intolerance and racist attitudes fuel this mistrust, but it is not representative of all – or in my personal belief, even the majority – of non-Aboriginal Australians. Many non-Aboriginal support, or at least want to support, the betterment and empowerment of Aboriginal peoples. We need to acknowledge that, and in doing so let them support us.

There also needs to be acknowledgement on both sides that the disparity between Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal peoples in relation to health, education, social justice, and a whole host of other issues, from a moral and ethical viewpoint, is wrong. Everyone knows about these disparities, however what is becoming increasingly obvious is that many have come to believe that these disparities are unavoidable, even normal or expected. It is in no way normal, and should not be expected, much less accepted. Acknowledging the wrongness of this attitude is not just a task for non-Aboriginal peoples: Aboriginal peoples also need to acknowledge that living with these disparities is not part of Aboriginal identity (read my previous article for more discussion on this topic). Betterment is not about assimilation. It’s about levelling the playing field. No one would expect that non-Aboriginal people should lower their standards of health, education, and so on to the level of Aboriginal peoples. Why should there be any resistance on either side to raising those same standards for Aboriginal peoples to those of the greater Australian society?

We don’t need more apologies to achieve true Reconciliation between Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal Australians, we need more acknowledgement.  We need to acknowledge the need for remorse, and the need for forgiveness. We need to acknowledge the problems, and the need to find solutions. We need to acknowledge that our differences can be used to unify rather than divide. And we need to acknowledge that we – all of us – are the only ones who can make Reconciliation happen.

Do you believe in Reconciliation? What do you think we need to make Reconciliation happen? More acknowledgement? More apologies? Please feel free to share your thoughts in the comments below.

Should Non-Indigenous Australians Be Proud of Indigenous Culture?

984a1b0af5d47f5f81d26ace274913bdAll this month, I’ve had the pleasure of both contributing to, and reading, some of the great blogs that have made up the Deadly Bloggers Blogging Carnival as part of Australia’s Blak History Month. While the blog articles themselves have been diverse and interesting, what struck me was the interaction and involvement through the various social media platforms. Particularly during NAIDOC week, I noticed a tremendous support from Aboriginal, Torres Strait Islander, and non-Indigenous peoples, liking, favouriting, and sharing my articles and articles both other Deadly Bloggers.

What I found especially exciting was the amount of involvement from non-Indigenous people, who were obviously reading, sharing, and enjoying post from Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander bloggers. More than that, people wanted to spread these messages, to share Australia’s Indigenous identity, if you will, to the point where – for me at least – there seemed to be definite evidence of pride in Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples and culture. It got me thinking: why not? Why shouldn’t non-Indigenous Australians be proud of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples and culture? Surely, that can only be a positive thing, right?

So I decided to see what the people thought by creating a simple survey titled, “Should non-Indigenous Australians be proud of Indigenous culture?”, and sent it out amongst the digital masses. The response was very interesting.

Over about three weeks I managed to get 83 respondents, of which 76 completed all the questions. The majority of respondents were non-Indigenous (64.5%), female (62%), and aged between 40 and 60 years of age (60.5%).

The first section attempted to determine the current perception of non-Indigenous Australian’s opinions towards Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander cultures. Specifically, whether non-Indigenous Australians know about and are proud of Indigenous Australian cultures, and whether they consider this an important part of Australia’s identity. It should be noted that these questions were about the respondents perceptions of the greater Australian community, not their own personal perception.

From the responses obtained, it seems that in general people believe that non-Indigenous Australians neither know about (64% No vs. 19% Yes), nor are proud of (59% No vs. 19% Yes) Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander cultures. Further, the respondents’ perception was that non-Indigenous Australians generally do not consider Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander cultures an important part of Australia’s identity (51% No vs. 34% Yes). While this may not surprise many given Australia’s sociopolitical history and track record in Indigenous affairs, it becomes very interesting when considered in the context of the next question.

The second section consisted of one simple question, and the opportunity for respondents to explain their answer. The question: in your opinion, should non-Indigenous Australians be proud of Indigenous Australian culture?

An overwhelming 95% of respondents answered, ‘Yes’, while the remaining 5% answered ‘Don’t Know’.

This is a remarkable contrast. It seems people are saying that non-Indigenous Australians should be proud of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander cultures, even though they might not currently be, or perhaps know enough to be, and that it is important for Australia’s identity. This is further supported in many of the additional comments respondents made in answering this question.

In explaining why they thought non-Indigenous Australian’s should be proud of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander cultures, several common themes emerged from the ideas put forward. These included:

  • the richness, diversity, and spirituality of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander cultures;
  • the long history of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples as the original inhabitants of this land Australia;
  • the connection and relationship Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples have to the land, including understanding of land management; and
  • the social values inherent in Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander cultures, and how these could enhance the broader Australian society.

This is reflected in statements such as:

“Because Indigenous Australian’s are the traditional owners of the land and bring with them a unique culture. We could learn more as non Indigenous people especially with regard to kinship values, the importance of the land and spirituality”

“Yes – it is what is unique to Australia, something that differentiates us from the rest of the world; we have one of the longest living cultures in the world and we should be proud of it and cherish it whether we are Indigenous or not.”

“Indigenous culture is a valuable resource for all Australians. It is rich and diverse, it is enduring and adaptable. It speaks with the voice of our ancient past. Indigenous culture advises us on how to care for the natural world and for each other. The language, art, music, learning,rituals, rules and ways of living cans inform all our ways of living.”

Some supported the idea in principle, however argued that ‘pride’ may not be as appropriate a term as ‘respect’ is. For example:

“I have difficulty with the word “proud”. … I think non-Indigenous Australians should be RESPECTFUL of the Indigenous culture. I feel we have a responsibility to help Indigenous people to feel proud of who they are. We have a responsibility to raise awareness of injustice that exists in our country against Indigenous people. We have a responsibility to recognize the past wrongs and rectify the situation (such as closing the gap in health and education). I feel honoured to know so many inspiring and wonderful indigenous people but I don’t feel that I have a right to say I am proud of a culture that isn’t mine. I haven’t earned the right to feel proud. What I wish I could say is that I am proud to live in a country that values and recognises its Indigenous population. …” (emphasis is respondent’s own)

While I can neither claim my little survey to be the model of empirical research, nor the responses received to be representative of the entire Australian population, I do feel a clear message comes through from this exercise: Non-Indigenous Australians should be proud – or at the very least, respectful – of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander cultures. More than that, non-Indigenous Australians want to be proud of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander cultures.

The next question must be: what’s stopping them? What are the obstacles and barriers to non-Indigenous pride in Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander cultures? Is it that Australians are victims of history – that the historical beliefs and attitudes towards Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples still persists, perhaps subconsciously, in the Australian psyche? Is it that we have inadequate leadership guiding us towards a society that values Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander cultures? Could it even be that Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples ourselves have become so used to protecting and defending our cultural rights, responsibilities, and beliefs, that we are unable or unwilling to allow non-Indigenous Australians to be proud of us?

Perhaps when we can examine and address these questions, we will find ourselves moving towards a truly Reconciled Australia that not only recognises, but takes pride, in its Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples.

I would like to thank all those who participated in the survey for your responses. Anyone interested in viewing the raw data from the survey can find it here.

Do you think non-Indigenous Australians should be proud of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander cultures? What do you think needs to change in order for this to happen? Please feel free to share your thoughts in the comments section below.

This post appears as part of the Deadly Bloggers Inaugural Blogging Carnival, held during Australia’s Blak History Month. To read other posts from Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Bloggers, visit the Deadly Bloggers website.

Reconciling Australia: It Starts With Our First Nations

Partnerships-Full-Image

“Partnerships”

In the mid-90’s I had the privilege of attending an advanced cultural awareness workshop for staff of the (then) Department of Human Services and Health in Canberra, at which Aboriginal Elder Aunty Mary Graham was one of the main facilitators. Aunty Mary shared many gems of information over those days, however one of the main statements she made that has always stuck in my mind was this:

“Aboriginal people will never have their Martin Luther King [Jr.]”

It was a statement made as part of a discussion on the diversity of Aboriginal peoples aimed at broadening the participants’ understanding of Aboriginal Australia as a ‘nation of nations’ – a land where each Clan/Language group was as separate and distinct from each other as other countries of the world are. The overarching message was that the Government must recognise that attempts to engage in consultation or partnerships with Aboriginal peoples needed to be done at local (community) levels; that there was not – and never will be – ‘one person’ who could speak for or claim to represent all Aboriginal peoples.

In that sense, Aunty Mary’s statement is very true, and I appreciate and agree with it from that perspective. However, to my way of thinking, it’s also a sad statement, because in a broader context, it also suggests that Aboriginal peoples will never achieve unity amongst ourselves. When you consider the achievements of Dr Martin Luther King Jr., one of the main things he did was unify people. In leading the American Civil Rights Movement, Dr King not only provided a voice for African-Americans, he gave them a common cause to rally to, and in doing so, brought African-Americans (and in a broader sense, all Americans who believed in racial equality) together in the spirit of unity. As a result, Dr King is credited with achieving, “more genuine progress toward racial equality in America than the previous 350 years …” (The King Center).

Australia’s Aboriginal peoples may never have our Dr King, however, we do need to create that unity amongst our First Nations. There have been attempts, the latest of which has been the formation of the National Congress of Australia’s First Peoples (Congress). Congress was established under the premise of being a representative body for all Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples that could act as our national voice, particularly when dealing with Government. Congress states that as of January 2014 it has over 7,500 individual members from all over Australia – a considerable figure given it was only formally established in 2010. However, whether this can be considered sufficiently ‘representative’ (about 1%) of the almost 670,000 Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples living in Australia is subject to debate, as is Congress’ continued existence, given the Australian Government’s recent decision to discontinue its funding.

What isn’t debatable is the need for a unified voice that led to the formation of Congress in the first place. Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples still only make up approximately 3% of the total Australian population, giving us a relatively small voice in Australian affairs. Divide that by the number of First Nations (estimated at about 600 prior to European settlement), and the voices of individual Nations becomes even smaller. This would not necessarily be a problem if Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples enjoyed an equitable status in areas such as health, education, employment, and social justice, with non-Indigenous Australians. The fact that we don’t, and that the scales are tipped so far away from Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Australians, should be reason enough for us to unify and seek solutions to common problems.

Ironically, in my observation at least, it is these very inequities that steer us away from unity. There is conflict between and within nations, communities, and sometimes even families, over what needs to be done and who has the ‘right’ to make those decisions. We fight over who should or shouldn’t have access to services, who should or shouldn’t be able to speak for our peoples, even who should or shouldn’t be identified as Aboriginal. This is not to say that there aren’t real issues within nations and communities that require resolution, however, when you consider that many of these issues only exist because of the effects of both historical and current policies and practices that have been imposed upon us, you have to question whether much of our internal conflict stems from a continued – perhaps now self-imposed – ‘divide-and-conquer’ strategy. As an Aboriginal person, I find this highly distressing, divisive, and confusing. I can only imagine how it must appear to non-Indigenous peoples. How can we possibly expect to achieve Reconciliation within Australia, when we’re unable to achieve it amongst ourselves?

It is crucial that all First Nations be able to retain their individuality in their identity, their Law, their cultural practices and beliefs, and their ability to determine their own futures. However, if we are going to make changes and improvements for the betterment of our peoples, we need to unify to address common issues. We need to reconcile both within and between communities and nations, and present a united front – a united voice – to combat the injustices we face. We need to adopt the old adage of “strength in numbers”, because as a minority within our own land, we need all the numbers we can get!

And if we can reconcile amongst ourselves, we give ourselves a greater chance of achieving Reconciliation amongst all of Australia. We can achieve a lot with 670,000. Imagine what we could achieve with 22 million.


I would like to acknowledge and thank the Making Two Worlds Work project for permission to use the image, Partnerships, in this article.


This post appear[ed] as part of the Deadly Bloggers Inaugural Blogging Carnival, held during Australian Blak History Month. To read other posts from Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Bloggers, visit the Deadly Bloggers website.